The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Celebrating my outside genes

I write a lot about planting reading seeds.  These kids go to school in one of the first schools where Ethiopia Reads got to plant a library–and I had the pleasure of reading a note from a visiting professor who led a training that the librarian and one teacher from the school attended.  “The children read aloud poetry and literature in Amharic as well as English to show us their ability,” she wrote. “They did a great job and a sense of pride was evident in their faces!”

I’ve gotten to watch what happens when you put books on shelves in a room where kids never had a chance to hold and read books before.  Guess what?

No matter how easy the seeds are to plant, sometimes reading takes cultivation.

Imagine the place where you learned to love books.  Even if the rooms were beautiful, how much great stuff would happen if teachers didn’t get support and encouragement, strategies and skills?

In our first Ethiopia Reads library, the staff registered 40,000 visits from kids in the first year.  Seeds–easy to plant.  Now I know more about the work needed to grow deep roots for book love–and sometimes that work has choked out other old loves, including gardening.

As I wrote the Lanie stories, piling words into sentences into paragraphs, I had lots of garden memories to help with the details about seeds and cultivation, rows and dirt and worms.  I grew up digging in dirt.  My kids grew up with gardens–the gardens we planted…the gardens their grandparents planted.  (Leonard’s mom brought flowers from her garden when we visited the ancestral Kansas graveyard on Memorial Day.)

My kids grew up with special outside places, just as I did.

As I wrote the Lanie books what I didn’t have was a garden.

Somehow other things had choked out the time.

But then I moved to Portland, to a house where a renter had planted herbs in the front yard, to a place where sisters and a brother cheerfully handed over plants–tomatoes and lettuce and rhubarb and thyme and something that creeps and spreads.

How could I resist my roots?

Last summer, I enjoyed the volunteer sunflowers and planted a few things with hope in my heart.  In the fall, I started traveling and sort of forgot about things.  But in Portland, even forgotten things often grow.

This year, I’m definitely hooked.

My daughter held the place for me, celebrating the sweetness of gardening, celebrating a childhood that included not only trees but The Secret Garden and who DOESN’T want to plant things after you read that book?

Can you read her blog post and resist heading out to your local farmers’ market for some berries?

She worked for Americorps in an urban gardening program.  She valiantly planted a garden in her back yard even when the animals made off with most of the goodies. 


This year, I’m there, too!  Anyone need some oregano?

I have three different kinds for you to choose from.

So…definitely…share the story love.  Fling those seeds far and wide.

But take it from Lanie and me…every once in a while, resist the inside genes. Take a break, put down the book, shut off the move, and go outside. Plants, like books, are lovely things to pass along.

5 thoughts on “Celebrating my outside genes”

  1. Hi! My name is Emily. I came upon your blog and the photo of the Ethiopian children is very sweet. I am living in Ethiopia right now, for a third year as a Peace Corps volunteer? Are you here?

    • Hi, Emily. No, I live in the US now–I’m a volunteer with Ethiopia Reads and we do have Ethiopian staff. We’ve tried a few pilot projects with Peace Corps volunteers so far, too.


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